Rise and Fall: SEC Program Review
Like civilizations, all great basketball programs eventually fall.. replaced by an upstart newcomer. In this week's Rise & Fall series, we'll take a look at which BCS programs are rising, falling, or merely treading water. Up today, the:
ALABAMA - DECLINING (SLOWLY )
Since 2002, when Bama was a Top 10 team, the results have steadily been going in the wrong direction. Last season was the low of the low, a 5-11 SEC record and a sub-100 RPI. Despite the graduation of Riley and the departure of Hendrix to the NBA, everyone expects improved play in 08-09 due to the return of Ronald Steele, and some intriguing prospects such as future pro Jamychal Green. Still, I see this as a make or break year for Gottfried and the Tide. Another sub-.500 season in SEC play and the big recruiting hauls will be harder to come by.. and Gottfried won't have a job.
ARKANSAS - STATUS QUO
A year or two ago, I would have said that the Razorbacks were an improving program. But now that the extremely lean 03-04-05 teams are in the past, the program has settled into being a middle of the SEC squad. Too many seniors depart to list them all, so what you're left with is Patrick Beverley and a whole bunch of recruits. While only 5 or 6 SEC wins should be expected, a return to the NCAA Tournament should be expected in the following season. Anything less and the 'Backs will return to the declining bin.
AUBURN - STATUS QUO
While Tiger fans have hoped for a breakout in recent seasons, it's simply not happening. Last year's experienced roster struggled to a disappointing 4-12 league record.. and their overall 14 win total was boosted by some brutally easy non-conference games. Though some solid recruits join the program in '08 and Andre Malone could be a steal in '09, there's simply no reason to expect anything spectacular this season. Another sub-100 RPI ranking (the 6th in a row) should be a lock.
FLORIDA - STATUS QUO
Even though last year's group exceeded the expectations of many, the so-so results broke a streak of eight Top 25 teams in a row from 2000 to 2007 (and 9 Tourney bids in a row as well). Led by Nick Calathes, a return to the Big Dance is a lock, and the Top 25 is certainly within reach. This year's class is easily the cream of the SEC's crop, and Billy Donovan is already lining them up for 2009. So long as Billy maintains the recruiting magic, there's no reason not to expect another long streak of Top 25 teams to commence.
GEORGIA - DECLINING (SLOWLY)
Last year's freak Tourney bid aside, this is still a program lacking any semblance of direction. Sundiata Gaines graduates, Billy Humphrey was finally dismissed after managing to clog up the court system by himself, and Jeremy Jacob (one of last year's big recruits) transferred. While the recruiting class, led by the highly-athletic Howard Thompkins, provides hope, there's not enough returning talent to even think that an NIT bid is in reason. Compared to the all-time bad 2005 season, anything is an improvement, but this might be the Dogs worst season since then.
KENTUCKY - RISING (SLOWLY)
Going purely by results, Kentucky is in the midst of a downward spiral since peaking in '03 & '04. But it would be misleading to suggest the program is declining. In reality, and this is mainly due to the respect I give Billy Gillispie, the program is now back on the up and up. While last year's tourney bid was simply not deserved, it's still an impressive feather for Gillispie's cap. With the program fully in his hands, big time recruits like Liggins and Miller aboard, and Patrick Patterson returning to full health, the Top 25 should be attainable.
LOUISIANA STATE - DECLINING (SLOWLY)
Considering the Tigers RPI has dropped from 13th in 2006 to 174th last year, the program might appear to be in a freefall. But I see this dip more as a result of some bad luck (players leaving school too early or getting hurt), as opposed to the utter collapse of LSU basketball. Getting a healthy Tasmin Mitchell back will be a major help, as will the handful of underrated recruits joining the program. An NIT bid is certainly within reason, which would be a major improvement over last year, but still worthy of the "Declining Slowly" category considering the Final Four run in 2006.
MISSISSIPPI - RISING (SLOWLY)
After starting the season 13-0, last year's putrid finish was a major downer. But its not enough to complete quash the positive momentum that's been building in recent seasons. Don't forget that this was a simply horrendous program from 03 to 06. With players like Chris Warren aboard, and one of their best recruiting classes ever about to step onto campus, the Rebels best seasons in almost a decade are just around the corner.
MISSISSIPPI STATE - STATUS QUO
In ten years under Rick Stansbury, the Bulldogs have never advanced past the 2nd Round. With so many important players departing, due to graduation (Rhodes), poor NBA decisions (Gordon), or transfer (Hansbrough), that streak will definitely continue. But hope springs eternal due to to the recruitment of Osby and Bost. While this could be one of the worst Bulldog teams in awhile, the program should continue to flutter in the fringe-NCAA/NIT range for awhile.
SOUTH CAROLINA - STATUS QUO
Darrin Horn did a great job at WKU, but he's got his hands full with a sputtering Gamecocks program. Perhaps its the curse of Coppin State, but South Carolina hasn't had a legitimately good team since 1997 when they lost in the opening round as a 2 seed. If Dave Odom was still around, SC would definitely be in the "Declining" category, but I'll give Darrin Horn the benefit of the doubt and assume he'll stop the bleeding.
TENNESSEE - RISING (SLOWLY)
The only reason Tennessee isn't rising quickly is because of the huge strides that have already been made. While a deep talent base and big-time recruiting prestige (see Scotty Hopson as an example) are now solidified, the next major step is busting through the Sweet Sixteen barrier. Despite a couple of senior departures, this could be Bruce Pearl's first Final Four team.
VANDERBILT - RISING (SLOWLY)
The Shan Foster era, which culminated in back to back 10-SEC win seasons, is over.. but the future is as bright as ever in Nashville. The impressive Aussie Ogilvy returns, and he'll be joined by what is probably Kevin Stallings' best ever recruiting class. For whatever reason, big-time prospects are taking Vandy more seriously now, which will lead to impressive results in the near future.
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